Wilted Grasses



24th April, 2018,

Dear Halima,

Three years gone, and still no sign of you; it is still a shock to me that you’re among those savages, undergoing the kinds of trauma people only read about. How I wish I could turn back the hands of time; I would have been there, I would have chosen to be taken in your place. But they didn’t want boys, that was why they took you and your friends.

The past years have been hard on me, but most especially, our parents have become shadows of who they once were. Their faces have become gaunt and aged; their eyes have a faraway look that is unnerving. It’s as if they expect you to walk in any moment, unhurt. Sometimes, they look as if they would rather be in the jaws of the savages, rescuing their precious daughter; but they are incapacitated by the fear of also losing me, and the uncertainty of your whereabouts.

Don’t mind me dear; how’re you doing? I hope your fate is a lot less horrible than the rest. Snippets of the atrocities and the horrors they subject you people to have floated towards us, and it sickens me to the soul hearing and seeing these things.

One time ago, a news reporter came to interview us. Almost everyone wanted to share his or her pain with the world; but I did not talk to them. I was afraid I would break down and cry in front of her; I wanted to be strong for you. But it’s so hard! I miss you so much that sometimes, I feel that my heart will shrivel with the pain of losing you.

I remember the days we were together, when we used to play and do almost everything together. Do you remember how we used to tend to the livestock? The day I milked my first heifer, and got kicked in the chin? You were always a natural at those kind of chores. I preferred hunting and shooting birds with my hand-crafted bow and arrow. Do you also remember the day I was chasing you across the dust-coated grassy plains? How the cold, sharp harmattan wind whipped our faces, whitening our fingers, and carrying dust into our nostrils? It was that day that you stumbled on a rock and hurt your big toe. I had fussed over you, applied the juice of dogonyaro on the big, red gash on your toe. I was cussing myself for being so reckless, and playing so roughly; all the while, you were laughing your head off, as if blood wasn’t pouring out of your wound. You were always so free-spirited.

With what we hear your plight, I guess there’s no way you listen or know about what is happening. Let me bring you up to date.

There were protests all over the country few weeks after they took you guys; so many people also lost their lives, and the government promised to bring you people back. But it was one of their false promises. Your captors came back a few days later and took more girls, thus sending everyone into a frenzy of panic; everyone is now too scared to move out.

Also, Amina has gotten married. She and her husband, an animal skin trader, have moved to Jalingo; it’s the best thing for her, no use witnessing more horror than is necessary. You remember Usman, right? He has now gotten into the university; I do not know what he is studying. Such things do not interest me, only you.

Recently, news got to us that there were some girls that were rescued and returned to their parents. This news was received with mixed feelings; on one hand we were happy for the them, but we also eagerly hoped for when you would return.

As I’m writing this letter, I’m currently sitting on our favourite spot—the old, dried-up, and parched well by the path to the farm. Even the well  misses your presence. I look at the wilted grasses, and wonder if you would be back ever again. Those grasses mirror how my spirit is—wilted and forlorn, without any hope for tomorrow.

Though we’ve been warned against coming out alone, I couldn’t help coming here to be with you for some minutes before going back. Even though I’m sad, the atmosphere at home is more depressing.

Before I leave, I want you to know that I am eagerly awaiting your return; whenever I go to the mosque, I always implore Allah to grant you safe return.

There are shouts coming from the village, let me go back before…

********************************************************

He never got to finish his letter, a stray bullet from the gun of one of the insurgents got him in the heart. He fell face first onto the parched earth, the crimson liquid from the hole wetting the letter which fell from his fingers. Hassan died, hoping that his sister would be returned to him. His parents were devastated by his death, and wanted to die with him; it took the intervention of the remaining villagers to pry them off the corpse of their only son. That evening, they fled their village in Maiduguri, leaving behind their destroyed homes and properties.

A month later, a newsman doing a documentary on the ravaged state of the village, discovered his letter. It was flakey, and the blood on it had become a pink hue. He was moved by the contents that he decided to publish it, naming it Wilted Grasses. It was the closest they got to a firsthand information during their entire documentary shoot.

Photo Credit: Edore Miracle (Blackice).

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